Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your comic book series! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the series’ premise?
Paul Constant: Thank you, and thanks for taking an interest in our comic!
Here’s the story: Standup comedian Melville Snelson almost hit it big in the 1990s. He had a TV pilot, he did a few standup gigs at Lollapalooza, and he may or may not have gone on a date with Janeane Garofalo, depending on who you ask. But then, everything just kind of…petered out. Snelson’s been doing the same stale comedy to smaller and smaller rooms over the years, and he’s coming to terms with the fact that he’s dancing on the ragged edge of failure. And then he decides that everyone else is to blame.
Snelson: Comedy Is Dying is a dark satire about Snelson’s increasingly desperate attempts to stay relevant in the digital age, which are always at war with his acute self-destructive impulses. Along the way, we get to poke at a lot of modern-day sacred cows: Podcasting culture, Reddit, self-help-y memoirs, entitled white male mediocrity, and the self-satisfied grifters who make a lot of money by repeatedly and loudly whining on TV that they’ve been canceled for their racist, sexist behavior.
BD: What inspired you to tell this story alongside artist Fred Harper, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Rob Steen, and how would you describe your shared creative process?
PC: There would be no Snelson without Fred Harper. Fred is a singular comics talent. I’ve never seen an artist who is so good at dancing on the razor’s edge between caricature and realism. He can take a scene of five people talking at an all-night diner and make it exciting, disgusting, edge-of-your seat entertainment.
Part of the appeal of Fred’s art is his attention to detail; the way Fred draws it, every pedestrian Snelson passes on the sidewalks of New York City is worthy of their own limited series. He’s a lifelong standup aficionado who’s stuffed the background of the book with a whole slew of comedy in-jokes. And another part of his appeal is that he is wildly expressive, like Bill Sienkiewicz. The plot and setting of Snelson are based in real life, but Fred’s art makes every page a fantastic voyage into a weird and wonderful universe.
The depth and flexibility of Fred’s artwork makes a colorist’s job impossibly hard. How can you color an artist who draws a hyperrealistic Brooklyn brownstone on one page and a Kirbyesque fistfight with limbs splaying everywhere on the next page? Lee Loughridge didn’t just rise to the challenge, he proved to be the perfect dancing partner for Fred’s swoony tango. He knows how to light a divey comedy club, and he brings that same realism to a drug-fueled fantasy sequence, which, of course, somehow makes everything feel even stranger.
I’ve worked with Rob Steen before, and I was thrilled he climbed on board the Snelson express. Lettering is such an underappreciated art—a good letterer is like Dante, guiding you through the panels on the page in such a way that you can clearly see and comprehend everything around you and you don’t even realize you’re heading straight to the bottom. Or no, wait—a good letterer is like a jazz drummer, setting the rhythm for the comic and keeping the whole thing on track. Whatever metaphor you’re mixing about what makes a good letterer, Rob Steen is a great one who amplifies every book he works on. I’d be thrilled if he lettered every comic I ever wrote.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Melville’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
PC: I love this initiative so much. Thank you for focusing on this—I think there’s a dangerous and pervasive tendency right now to think of comics as just another form of “content,” or an IP farm for Hollywood. It’s great to remember that the stories are what drew us to this medium, and they’re what make this medium so special.
As to how this relates to Snelson: I write in order to learn about the world around me. And over the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of my fellow middle-aged white dudes lose their minds in response to America’s growing diversity. We’ve seen this in the comics world, when grown men film hundreds of YouTube rants because they’re scared and upset that Brie Larson thinks women should have the same rights as men. And then the internet amplifies and commodifies that hate, creating the suffocating avalanche that we now call everyday life.
I was interested in writing about this character and this world, because I want to understand why some people—mostly white, mostly men—want to surround themselves in a childhood nostalgia for a world that never really existed. I don’t want to sympathize with them or make them anti-heroes, but I want to understand what makes someone decide to become a troll. Melville Snelson was kind of my way into that world—and maybe he’s what I would have become, if I hadn’t changed and grown since the 1990s, when casual racism, sexism, and homophobia was not only tolerated, but celebrated, in popular culture.
This all sounds deadly serious, but I swear the book is funny. I wanted to throw a pie in the face of the Twitter weirdos who wet their pants because Captain America is a Black guy on TV, and the Congresspeople who self-seriously print the word “silenced” on their masks when they speak in front of an audience of millions. The world is ridiculous, and Snelson is our attempt to hold up a mirror to the ridiculousness.
BD: You previously worked with AHOY Comics on the series, Planet of the Nerds. What continues to makes AHOY Comics a great home for your comic book series?
PC: I’ve been reading comics written and edited by AHOY editor-in-chief Tom Peyer my whole life. He edited Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol comics, which were life-changing for a teenage me. His run on Hourman is one of the best mainstream superhero comics of the last 25 years—his books are always smart, funny, and deeply personal. That’s the exact same energy he and publisher Hart Seeley are bringing to AHOY Comics, and those are the kinds of comics that really speak to me. If I wasn’t writing for AHOY Comics, I’d still be AHOY’s number-one fan.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
PC: I wish I could tell you what I’m working on next, but I can’t yet! I think I can tell you that in many ways it’s the exact opposite of Snelson—it’s light and innocent and heroic. If I could switch back and forth between projects like Snelson and the secret project I’m working on now for my whole career, I’d be the happiest man in comics.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Snelson?
PC: First, I’d want to give them a great big hug and a thanks for being interested in my work. Then, I would advise them to sign up for two free monthly newsletters. The first is the AHOY Comics newsletter, which is, to my mind, the best, funniest, and most interesting comics publisher newsletter in the business. It’s always packed with interviews, recommendations from AHOY creators, and information about upcoming books. That’s where you’ll hear all the cool news first, like the fact that Snelson #1 has a variant cover drawn by alternative comics god Peter Bagge, and Snelson #2 has a variant cover drawn by the one and only Sergio Aragones.
And second, I’d ask them to sign up for my personal newsletter, Paul Constant Is Reading and Writing in Seattle. At the end of every month, I collect all my writing in one place, recommend the books and comics that I’ve been reading, and talk about what I’m working on. Lately, I’ve written a lot about what writing Snelson was like, why I love writing comics, and why I wept for joy when I first saw that Sergio Aragones variant cover for Snelson #2. Plus, I often include pictures of my two adorable greyhounds, Oberon and Wally. It’s my small attempt to make the internet a more positive place.